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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog


By Christine Kohler

A librarian who has been a judge on many Texas Bluebonnet Award committees once told me that she looks for naysayers. One of this librarian’s favorite picture book author-illustrator is Suzanne Bloom.

Look at the opening sentence of Bloom’s A MIGHTY FINE TIME MACHINE “Boys,” said Sam, “you’ve been bamboozled.”
It’s obvious from the get-go that Samantha the anteater is a naysayer.

A naysayer is someone who habitually expresses a negative or pessimistic view, according to the dictionary. It literature, the naysayer expresses the opposite view of the main character. This opposite viewpoint adds conflict and tension. The naysayer can also plant doubt in the reader’s mind whether or not the main character is making the right decision, going in the correct direction, or should be going after a particular goal.

Don’t confuse a naysay with the antagonist. In “Dowton Abby” it’s Mr. Carson. In POOH BEAR the naysayer is Eyeore, the melancholy donkey.

In the YA novel A FACE IN EVERY WINDOW by Han Nolan the naysayer is main character JP’s Aunt Colleen. Here’s a great example:

When Mam had called Aunt Colleen to tell her that she had won the contest, Aunt Colleen sad nothing good would come of a house gotten by such means and Mam had better watch out. “Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” she said. “I don’t have a good feeling about this. No, not at all.”

However, because of the theme of this novel, the aunt doesn’t stay a naysayer throughout.

The best example of a naysayer in a YA novel is GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray. If you have not read this dark humor adventure, I advise you to keep with it and not put it down. Personally, I didn’t know what to make of it at first. But once I sat back and just went with the adventure, it was curiously riveting. Toward the end of the story, though, I realized what Bray was doing and found the style and technique brilliant. The ending took my breath away.

The naysayer in GOING BOVINE is a garden gnome named Gonzo. Here’s an example when the main character Cameron is trying to convince Gonzo that an angel named Dulcie talked to Cameron.

Gonzo frowns. “Doesn’t seem like an angel name to me. My mom’s really big on the saints, and I’ve never heard of a St. Dulcie. You sure you weren’t just dreaming, man?”
…I tell him everything Dulcie said about Dr. X and his time traveling and cure and the end of the world approaching if we don’t locate him and get him to close the wormhole.
Gonzo stares at me. “Dude, you sound like those geezers who hang around the bus station wearing tinfoil hats and pissing into empty soda cups.”

Later Cameron tells Gonzo he is supposed to go on a journey with him. This is Gonzo’s naysayer response:

His hands fly up. “Oh, hell to the no.”
“No, no, no, and no with a side of no.”

Bray keeps Gonzo’s naysaying personality and responses consistent throughout. Here’s one more classic example of a naysayer:

”This is a bad idea. Let’s blow it off,” Gonzo said.

When I decided to write about naysayers I found many examples in picture books, but very, very few in novels. If you know of an example, I would love to have you post in the comment section the title, author and give an example why a particular character qualifies as a naysayer.

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